Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This Summer: A Tale of an ultra DNF, a Road Race, and The Journey for Perfection

The summer has began to take shape. I have finished with Graduate school and so now I am a free man to spend my time working on my career, running to my hearts content, and spending time with friends and family.  Making the transition from school to the "real world" has been hectic but I can finally write to you noting that I have made some strides in my transition.

To begin the summer season, I decided to run the Binghamton Bridge Run for a fun tune-up half marathon effort before Cayuga Trails.  I felt that as I have never run this race, it was a great idea to finally take the plunge and compete at the event.  I was still a little banged up from the 50k Provisional World Record Indoor Track Attempt but was training at close to full-strength so I thought, why not jump into a road race. 

CHAPTER 1: The Binghamton Bridge Run---A Grand Ole' Time!

While still living in Cortland, NY at the time, the early morning drive saw me rise at 5 am and then head the 40-50 minutes to Binghamton.  I stopped and loaded up on Dunkin Doughnuts as there is nothing better than a small iced coffee and a glazed doughnut before running hard. I had no idea what expectations I had coming into the race except to contest for the win and run a smooth first 5k then pick up the pace based on how I felt. I never had the intention to shoot for a personal best but if the race dictated that type of effort, then I would do what I could.

I showed up to the race site just in the nick of time as I had 15 minutes before the start. I collected my bib and did a few strides and then I lined up for the race.  I also took a Boom Grape/Pomegranate gel right before the race start which is a strategy of mine to give me a consistent flow of energy so that I do not have to worry about low calories during the race.Talking with people I heard I had some competition for the win with a Ben Snodgrass, who just graduated from Binghamton University and has been tearing up the local road racing scene with some solid times. I saw him at the line and he mentioned that he was doubling both the Half Marathon and 5k and I thought he might try to run this race more conservative. 

The gun shot off and we were off to begin 13.1 miles of sheer fun. I went to the lead with a small pack of about 4 of us with Ben Snodgrass running stride by stride with myself.   We immediately started talking and decided to get rolling after the first 5k as we were running 5:45-5:50+ miles and I wanted to separate early from the chase group.  With the next two miles in 5:18 and 5:21 that separation was created and then became ultimately a 2-man race. 

Thank you Cassandra Hamilton for these photos:
As you can see the chase pack and one other runner right behind us only 2 miles into the race.

Miles 3-5 saw us form quite a solid gap.

From 10k-Mile 10:
We kept pace and chatted the whole way clicking off miles in the 5:20 range as the weather was perfect and it was nice to have some solid company.  I slowly tried testing Ben's willingness to change tempo as we would surge for one mile then ease up the next followed by another surge. Once I hit 10k around 35:26 (5:42 mile pace), I knew I had to start trying to go more uptempo.  From 10k to mile 10, I through in some strong surges seeing if I could drop Ben.   

Clicking off 4 miles at around 5:05-5:13

We ran those 4 miles from 10k to mile 10 in 20:35 with a 5k split of 16:13! 

As you can see, Ben kept stride with me the whole time. We stopped chatting a little during this point but then recollected coming into the final 5k of the race. He was ready to run and ran really strong as the moves I made only dropped him a mere second at points during those 4 miles yet he always managed to surge back.

Photo Credits: Harry J. Back

Last 5k: We hit the 5k easing up from our last miles and then picked up the pace the last mile and we decided it would come down to a sprint finish. We hit the final finish shoot and his track speed gave him the edge as he pulled away by about 2 seconds. I began to close quick the last meters to almost nip him at the line finishing the race a mere .8 seconds behind. 

I placed 2nd and really enjoyed the whole experience! I had never run a road race able to chat it up running a solid 32:13. I also had the chance to rock the new MPF/Red Newt Jersey and man was it fun to represent a great team! The rest of the day was spent talking to people about my ultra running, Mammut, and the new Red Newt/MPF trail running team!  Thank to my family to Mammut North America, Fits Socks, Red Newt/MPF, Karhu North America/ Craft Sports North America, Redfeather Snowshoes, Boom Nutrition for all of your support.

CHAPTER 2: Cayuga Trails 50: DNF Stands for Delirious, Nervous, Faint

I was all primed for Cayuga. I had done my fair share of hilly runs, solid mileage, fast training runs and lots of steps.  The week of the race, I caught some sinus problems from moving into a new house in Binghamton, NY and had my fair share of workouts moving belongings from our third floor apartment into our cars and moving vans. It was a long week of moving and very hard to find the time to do nothing and rest up to totally eliminate my sinus troubles. Unfortunately for race day, I still had some sinus issues but felt as ready as I could be for the event. We woke up early from our new home in Endicott, NY and made the 55 minute drive to Ithaca. I was very tired both physically and mentally from a long week of moving but it is where the sport of ultra running shows you that it is in those moments of fatigue that you can find your strength.

I made it to the race site with about 20 minutes to spare. That was just enough time to check-in and use the bathroom and pose for a few photos:

Photo Credits: Mountain Peak Fitness

**I had all of my new MPF/Red Newt Mammut gear screen printed and it looked great for the race. I linked up with some of the members of the team and began to get ready for a big race. I had aspirations of running near the top 5 and if it was in the cards, maybe surpass my own expectations with a podium spot.  The race this year went out like it does every year though the pace felt a little more controlled than the previous two years. As the field began to push through the various steps and ravines of this grueling course, I started to scan the competition for some tough runners that I knew would be there in the end. I kept my eyes on Andrew Benford, who has some USA Mountain Running experience and though his first 50 miler I believe, his ability to combine fast marathons with mountain running experience would make him a strong podium contender. I kept him in eye sight to help gauge my effort.  I linked up close to Ben Nephew as I have always run with him at times during this race the past two years and have not been able to close at the end so I knew keying my race off of him would give me the chance for a solid finish. 

The pace through the first few miles felt solid as I ran within myself. I could see Ben in the slight distance with other runners right in contact. As we went up and down the gorges of Ithaca, my Gps watch kept hitting my other watch and messing up my passing and mileage. I kept playing around with it and then gave up and kept running by feel. My sinus pressure felt okay though I tried not to let some stuffiness get my mental game. I remained tough and kept along the pace. The field strung out as we crossed the deep creek and headed to Lick Brook. Chad Trumbo and myself with Ben Nephew linked up pretty well in Lick Brook and we ran together nice and solid. The pace felt 7:30's on downhills and 8-8:20 a mile as we recovered from a 10 minute mile uphill section from miles 6-15. Myself and Chad worked together pretty solidly while Ben was with us and at times would relax a little only to find him right with us a few minutes later if that. It was a pack of three!

I took the lead at the big Lick Brook Climb and gained a little separation as out of my race, that power hike up the incline was my crowning achievement for the race. I felt pretty relaxed hiking up the trail.  
Photo Credits: Mountain Peak Fitness
*The photo here shows at the section at Buttermilk Falls, Chad had been in and out of the aid station and we both on the downhill to the Buttermilk Aid station put up a little bit of time (seconds) on Ben. The photo shows justice. I felt good here as well strategically running and power hiking sections incredibly well and had much more left even with us running about pace for sub 7:20 for 50 miles. That would be a 20 minute or so PR on this course for me though my last two runs at this race I have not been at full-strength so my potential on this course I have yet to experience. I felt like this day would be the day.  I kept fueling with my Boom gels and was on tap with gels every 45 minutes and my energy levels felt solid. I put in a surge and linked up with Chad.

We ran strong together and I think picked it up some as we were approaching the turn around. At the river crossing (Underpass) aid station we both caught Fred Joslyn and another gentlemen and that was a big boost for us as we were closing well. If we could keep our pace, we would run a spectacular time.  

It was at the dreaded Lucifer steps, 4 miles from the turn around where something odd happened. I was running powerhiking this section with the group feeling still strong but ready for some more gels when my heart rate skyrocketed and my vision went dark for a few seconds. While almost at the top, i braced the wall of the steps to hold myself upright. My vision returned and a ringing noise popped up in my ears. My head felt cloudy and highly pressurized like some soda cans that were shaken up. I suddenly felt extremely weak. I lost the group of guys as I felt like I was going nowhere. I looked back and saw Ben ascending up the steps. I could not go up the steps as I wavered on each step trying to retain balance. From Ben's perspective, I must have looked like some drunk fool dancing around the steps almost 1,150 feet high. I regained a little focus once at the top, took a gel, and drank the last of the GU brew in my bottle. I was bummed I lost contact after running so smart and strong the first 20+ miles. I descended into the next aid station and took my time fueling up thinking maybe it was low blood sugar.  I then headed to the turn around. 

Photo Credits: SportTracks!

I did not feel good at all. I felt dizzy, delirious and faint.  I felt my race would now be a long suffer fest for another 25 miles. This is not how I wanted my race to go. I felt dejected as I was passed by maybe 4-6 people in those last 4 miles. I would have to run really strong to improve upon my 7th place finish from 2014 (last year). I had trained very well this year and felt my progress was to lead to a high-caliber finish for this race. That was not in the cards for the day.  I told my family that if I would improve how I felt by the Buttermilk Aid station mile 37 or 38 , I would continue to the finish. I spent quite some time fueling up and off I went. I ran and power hiked the sections but my energy even with all the calories felt rock bottom. It was great to see Carlo and Silas, both Red Newt/MPF teammates run so well. I felt bad I had nothing to keep pace. The next 12 miles I was pretty much to myself. I kept running but my pace dramatically slowed. Everything felt heavy and my vision turned to tunnel vision where I could only make out the trail and a pink flag as the course marker. At the turn around (Mile 25) I noticed this tunnel vision and lack of specificity in my vision. At times I almost missed turns on the course and I tired to be optimistic but as I left Lick Brook and entered Buttermilk, nothing seemed to change as I kept up with my 45 minute gel strategy. I was thinking, it cannot be blood sugar. I caught both Sam Jurek and Fred Joslyn as they were struggling from the early pace. I was passed by Brian Rusiecki, a east coast ultra stud who I have been blessed to race with at Cayuga Trails and Manitous Revenge. I told him I was having a rough day and it was maybe low blood sugar. Like the gentleman he is offered gels and I kindly declined. I kept going to the aid station. 

I then descended into Buttermilk. Physically, I felt better as my legs could offer my last two miles in 7:10 and 6:52.  As far as the way my vision was, I was exactly the same. As an oath to myself, as I came to the aid station greeted with the cheers of my name from the Trails Roc crew, I said my number and that I was seriously dropping. I will forever remember their shouts of "NO, NO, NO, Don't Do IT". I felt done. I laid in a nice chair and took in calories of every goody out there. I consumed oreos, broth, watermelon, gels, M&Ms etc. The color in my face soon started to return but I still felt like I was KO'd at a boxing match with little birdies flying around my head like a cartoon.

MY Race was OVER.  I called it quits at Mile 37/38. I was in 11th place at the time of the drop which was not too bad but I felt off of what I could do.  Trails Roc worked hard to convince me to keep going but there was no such luck getting me to change my mind. I met my father and Ashlee at the aid station, spent 15-20 minutes there then headed into the van to return to the finish line. 

I had the chance to see the first few finishers who ran solid races. Amazing performances  across the board. The collection of times were much faster than the previous two years.

Here is where I thank everyone who made this day a huge success.
Thank you Ian Golden for putting on such a well-run event. The race seems to get better and better each year. 
Thank you to all of the volunteers and runners out on the course that gave some encouragement out there. It is always a great boost to hear my name out on the course.  The aid stations were perfect with great help from some stand-up people. Thank you to the Trails Roc crew for all of their help and support. You are one fabulous band of people.

Thank you to my sponsors:

Mammut North America: The MTR line continues to improve and our MTR 201 Tech Low performed as a super competitive shoe for trail racing and ultra marathons. The cushioning of the shoe blew me away and the upper feels luxurious for swelling feet and the outsole felt good on every surface Cayuga Trails had to offer. The MTR 201 Tech Low is a must-buy Mammut shoe! The new apparel keeps me dry, fits perfect, and chaffing...that word is not in my vocabulary.

Boom Nutrition: The tattoos were great. I had them on my legs but washed away in the big creek crossing. Of course your gels keep me going with a boom of real fruit energy and flavor with the most calories of any energy gel. 

Fits socks: Best fitting socks around. No blisters as my Light Runner Low socks have just enough padding for the ultras but keep my feet dry in the moist, dank, and wet conditions of Cayuga like a real champion does.

Mountain Peak Fitness/Red Newt Racing Team: Thank you Elizabeth and Joe, Ian too for all the support, and for having such a great team of people that love the outdoors. 

Redfeather Snowshoes: Thank you for keeping me fit in the winter as the hard training is paying off this summer!

Finger Lakes Running/Confluence/Run On Hudson: For a great job helping to help shape our running community. And great tattoos!

Karhu/Craft Sports: For amazing gear and footwear I train in and race in while on the roads. 

USATF Niagara: For being a great governing body for our sport here in Upstate New York.

Thank you to my friends, family and everyone who reads this. Your support and enthusiasm keeps me running!

Chapter 3: The Journey From Here:
The Nervous side of this race comes with the NOW. 

Amazing MTR 201 Tech Low shoes that have been a major player in solid training and racing! Amazing job Mammut!

So where does my racing take me now?  I am currently training for the Whiteface Skymarathon which I hope to run a race where I can redeem myself from the DNF at Cayuga Trails. I have been getting in some solid hill training in to hopefully improve my overall fitness and prepare my muscle-memory for the rigors of a sky race.  I have been talked into running both the Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon and the Vestal 20k both as road races to provide some uptempo training for myself which is always a good thing.

Here is a photo from JFK 50 last Fall. I came into that race, still not fully-recovered from some bad bronchitis but rallied to a 5th place finish. 

After a summer where I had a severe ankle injury, I was recovered well and raced to a course record at the Virgil Crest 50k. 

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